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The Sherlock Holmes Archives
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Truth About Sherlock Holmes
A Study in Scarlet
Part I - Being a Reprint from the Reminiscences of John H. Watson, M.D., Late of the Army Medical Department
Chapter I - Mr. Sherlock Holmes
Chapter II - The Science of Deduction
Chapter III - The Lauriston Garden Mystery
Chapter IV - What John Rance Had to Tell
Chapter V - Our Advertisement Brings a Visitor
Chapter VI - Tobias Gregson Shows What He Can Do
Chapter VII - Light in the Darkness
Part II - The Country of the Saints
Chapter I - On the Great Alkali Plain
Chapter II - The Flower of Utah
Chapter III - John Ferrier Talks with the Prophet
Chapter IV - A Flight for Life
Chapter V - The Avenging Angels
Chapter VI - A Continuation of the Reminiscences of John Watson, M.D.
Chapter VII - The Conclusion
The Sign of Four
Chapter I - The Science of Deduction
Chapter II - The Statement of the Case
Chapter III - In Quest of a Solution
Chapter IV - The Story of the Bald-headed Man
Chapter V - The Tragedy of Pondicherry Lodge
Chapter VI - Sherlock Holmes Gives a Demonstration
Chapter VII - The Episode of the Barrel
Chapter VIII - The Baker Street Irregulars
Chapter IX - A Break in the Chain
Chapter X - The End of the Islander
Chapter XI - The Great Agra Treasure
Chapter XII - The Strange Story of Jonathan Small
The Hound of the Baskervilles
Chapter I - Mr. Sherlock Holmes
Chapter II - The Curse of the Baskervilles
Chapter III - The Problem
Chapter IV - Sir Henry Baskerville
Chapter V - Three Broken Threads
Chapter VI - Baskerville Hall
Chapter VII - The Stapletons of Merripit House
Chapter VIII - First Report of Dr. Watson
Chapter IX - Second Report of Dr. Watson
The Light upon the Moor
Chapter X - Extract from the Diary of Dr. Watson
Chapter XI - The Man on the Tor
Chapter XII - Death on the Moor
Chapter XIII - Fixing the Nets
Chapter XIV - The Hound of the Baskervilles
Chapter XV - A Retrospection
The Valley of Fear
Part I - The Tragedy of Birlstone
Chapter I - The Warning
Chapter II - Sherlock Holmes Discourses
Chapter III - The Tragedy of Birlstone
Chapter IV - Darkness
Chapter V - The People of the Drama
Chapter VI - A Dawning Light
Chapter VII - The Solution
Part II - The Scowrers
Chapter I - The Man
Chapter II - The Bodymaster
Chapter III - Lodge 341, Vermissa
Chapter IV - The Valley of Fear
Chapter V - The Darkest Hour
Chapter VI - Danger
Chapter VII - The Trapping of Birdy Edwards
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
A Scandal in Bohemia
The Red-headed League
A Case of Identity
The Boscombe Valley Mystery
The Five Orange Pips
The Man with the Twisted Lip
The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
The Adventure of the Speckled Band
The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb
The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor
The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet
The Adventure of the Copper Beeches
Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
The Yellow Face
The Stock-Broker's Clerk
The »Gloria Scott«
The Musgrave Ritual
The Reigate Puzzle
The Crooked Man
The Resident Patient
The Greek Interpreter
The Naval Treaty
The Final Problem
The Return of Sherlock Holmes
The Adventure of the Empty House
The Adventure of the Norwood Builder
The Adventure of the Dancing Men
The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist
The Adventure of the Priory School
The Adventure of Black Peter
The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton
The Adventure of the Six Napoleons
The Adventure of the Three Students
The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez
The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter
The Adventure of the Abbey Grange
The Adventure of the Second Stain
His Last Bow
His Last Bow
The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge
The Adventure of the Cardboard Box
The Adventure of the Red Circle
The Sherlock Holmes Archives, Neville Goddard
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Germany
Cover Design: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / squidmediaro
It was in October, 1876 that I began my medical course at the University of Edinburgh. The most notable of the characters whom I met was one Joseph Bell, surgeon at the Edinburgh Infirmary. Bell was a very remarkable man in body and mind. He was thin, wiry, dark with a high-nosed, acute face, penetrating grey eyes, angular shoulders, and a jerky way of walking. His voice was high and discordant. He was a very skilful surgeon, but his strong point was diagnosis, not only of disease, but of occupation and character. For some reason which I have never understood he singled me out from the drove of students who frequented his wards and made me his out-patient clerk, which meant that I had to array his out-patients, make simple notes of their cases, and then show them in, one by one, to the large room in which Bell sat in state surrounded by his dressersand students. Then I had ample chance of studying his methods and in noticing that he often learned more of the patient by a few quick glances than I had done by my questions. Occasionally the results were very dramatic, though there were times when he blundered. In one of his best cases he said to a civilian patient:
“Well, my man, you’ve served in the army?”
“Not long discharged?”
“A Highland regiment?”
“A noncom officer?”
“Stationed at Barbados?”
“You see, gentlemen,” he would explain, “the man was a respectful man, but did not remove his hat. They do not in the army, but he would have learned civilian ways had he been long discharged. He has an air of authority and he is obviously Scottish. As to Barbados, his complaint is elephantiasis, which is West Indian and not British.” To his audience of Watsons it all seemed most miraculous until it was explained, and then it became simple enough. It is no wonder that after the study of such a character I used and amplified his methods when in later life I tried to build up a scientific detective who solved cases on his own merits and not through the folly of the criminal. Bell took a keen interest in these detective tales and made suggestions, which were not, I am bound to say, very practical.
The Twopenny Box
I endeavoured almost from the first to compress the classes for a year into half a year, so as to have some months in which to earn a little money. It was at this time that I first learned that shillings might be earned in other ways than by filling phials. Some friend remarked to me that my letters were very vivid, and surely I could write some things to sell. I may say that the general aspiration toward literature was tremendously strong upon me, and that my mind was reaching out in what seemed an aimless way in all sorts of directions. I used to be allowed twopence for my lunch, that being the price of a mutton pie, but near the pie shop was a second-hand bookshop with a barrel full of old books and the legend, “Your choice for 2d,”stuck above it. Often the price of my luncheon used to be spent on some sample out of this barrel, and I have within reach of my arm, as I write these lines, copies of Gordon’s Tacitus, Temple’s works, Pope’s Homer, Addison’s Spectator and Swift’s works,which all came out of the twopenny box.
Anyone observing my actions and tastes would have said that so strong a spring would certainly overflow, but for my own part I never dreamed I could myself produce decent prose, and the remark of my friend, who was by no means given to flattery, took me greatly by sur prise. I sat down, however, and I wrote a little adventure story which I called “The Mystery of the Sasassa Valley.” To my great joy and surprise, it was accepted by Chambers’s Journal, and I received three guineas. It mattered not that other attempts failed. I had done it once and I cheered myself by the thought that I could do it again.
Upon emerging from Edinburgh as a bachelor of medicine in 1881, my plans were all exceedingly fluid and I was ready to join army, navy, Indian service,or anything which offered an opening. But after taking a trip in a cargo vessel along the west coast of Africa, I finally settled down to practice in Plymouth.
I had at this time contributed several stories to London Society, a magazine now defunct, but then flourishing under the editorship of a Mr. Hogg. It had never entered my head yet that literature might give me a career, or anything beyond a little casual pocket money, but already it was a deciding factor in my life, for I could not have held on, and must have either starved or given in but for the few pounds which Mr. Hogg sent me.
During the years before my marriage I had from time to time written short stories which were good enough to be marketable at very small prices—five pounds on average—but not good enough to reproduce. They are scattered about amid the pages of London Society, of All the Year Round, of Temple Bar, the Boys’ Own Paper and other journals. There let them lie. They served their purpose in relieving me of a little of that financial burden which always pressed upon me. I can hardly have earned more than ten or fifteen pounds a year from this source, so that the idea of making a living by it never occurred to me. But though I was not putting out, I was taking in. I still have notebooks full of all sorts of knowledge which I acquired during that time. It is a great mistake to start putting out cargo when you have hardly stowed any on board.
Enter Holmes and Watson
I had for some time from 1884 onward been engaged upon a sensational book of adventure which I had called The Firm of Girdlestone, which represented my first attempt at a connected narrative. Save for occasional patches, it is a worthless book. I felt now that I was capable of something cleaner and crisper and more workmanlike. Gaboriau had rather attracted me by the neat dovetailing of his plots, and Poe’s masterful detective, M. Dupin, had from boyhood been one of my heroes. But could I bring an addition of my own? I thought of my old teacher Joe Bell, of his eagle face, of his curious ways, of his eerie trick of spotting details. If he were a detective he would surely reduce this fascinating but unorganized business to something nearer to an exact science. I would try if I could get this effect. It was surely possible in real life, so why should I not make it plausible in fiction? It is all very well to say that a man is clever, but the reader wants to see examples of it—such examples as Bell gave us every day in the wards.
The idea amused me. What should I call the fellow? I still possess the leaf of a notebook with various alternative names. One rebelled against the elementary art which gives some inkling of character in the name, and creates Mr. Sharps or Mr. Ferrets. First it was Sherringford Holmes; then it was Sherlock Holmes. He could not tell his own exploits, so he must have a commonplace comrade as a foil—an educated man of action who could both join in the exploits and narrate them. A drab, quiet name for this unostentatious man. Watson would do. And so I had my purpose and wrote my Study in Scarlet.
I knew that the book was as good as I could make it and I had high hopes. When Girdlestone used to come circling backwith the precision of a homing pigeon I was grieved but not surprised, for I acquiesced in the decision. But when my little Holmes book began also to do the circular tour I was hurt, for I knew that it deserved a better fate. James Payn applauded, but found it both too short and too long, which was true enough. Arrowsmith received it in May 1886, and returned it unread in July. Two or three others sniffed and turned away. Finally, as Ward, Lock & Co. made a specialty of cheap and often sensational literature, I sent it to them. They said:
DEAR SIR—We have read your story and are pleased with it. We could not publish it this year, as the market is flooded at present with cheap fiction, but if you do not object to its being held over till next year, we will give you twenty-five pounds for the copyright.
Yours faithfully, WARD, LOCK & CO. Oct. 30, 1886.
It was not a very tempting offer, and even I, poor as I was, hesitated to accept it. It was not merely the small sum offered, but it was the long delay, for this book might open a road for me. I was heartsick, however, at repeated disappointments, and I felt that perhaps it was true wisdom to make sure of publicity, however late. Therefore I accepted, and the book became Beeton’s Christmas Annual of 1887.
It was in consequence of a publishers’ dinner, at which I was a guest, that I wrote The Sign of the Four, in which Holmes made his second appearance. But thereafter for a time he was laid on the shelf, for, encouraged by the kind reception which “Micah Clarke” had received from the critics, I now determined upon an even bolder and more ambitious flight.
Hence came my two books. The White Company, written in 1889, and Sir Nigel, written fourteen years later. Of the two I consider the latter the better book, but I have no hesitation in saying that the two of them taken together did thoroughly achieve my purpose, that they made an accurate picture of that great age, and that, as a single piece of work, they form the most complete, satisfying, and ambitious thing that I have ever done. All things find their level, but I believe that if I had never touched Holmes, who has tended to obscure my higher work, my position in literature would at the present moment be a more commanding one. *The work needed much research and I have still got my notebooks full of all sorts of lore. I cultivate a simple style and avoid long words so far as possible, and it may be that this surface of ease has sometimes caused the reader to underrate the amount of real research which lies in all my historical novels. It is not a matter which troubles me, however, for I have always felt that justice is done in the end, and that the real merit of any work is never permanently lost.
I remember that as I wrote the last words of The White Company I felt a wave of exultation and, with a cry of “That’s done it!” I hurled my inky pen across the room, where it left a black smudge upon the duck‘s-egg wall paper. I knew in my heart that the book would live and that it would illuminate our national traditions. Now that it has passed through fifty editions I suppose I may say with all modesty that my forecast has proved to be correct. This was the last book which I wrote in my days of doctoring at Southsea, and marks an epoch in my life, so I can now hark back to some other phases of my last years at Bush Villabefore I broke away into a new existence.
A number of monthly magazines were coming out at that time, notable among which was the Strand then, as now, under the very able editorship of Greenhough Smith. Considering these various journals with their disconnected stories, it had struck me that a single character running through a series, if only it engaged the attention of the reader, would bind that reader to that particular magazine.
Looking round for my central character, I felt that Sherlock Holmes, whom I had already handled in two little books, would easily lend himself to a succession of short stories. These I began in the long hours of waiting in my consulting room. Smith liked them from the first, and encouraged me to go ahead with them.
It was at this time that I definitely saw how foolish I was to waste my literary earnings in keeping up an oculist’s room in Wimpole Street, and I determined with a wild rush of joy to cut the painterand to trust forever to my power of writing. So I settled down with a stout heart to do some literary work worthy of the name. The difficulty of the Holmes work was that every story really needed as clear-cut and original a plot as a longish book would do. One cannot without effort spin plots at such a rate. They are apt to become thin or to break. I was determined, now that I had no longer the excuse of absolute pecuniary pressure, never again to write anything which was not as good as I could possibly make it, and therefore I would not write a Holmes story without a worthy plot and without a problem which interested my own mind, for that is the first requisite before you can interest anyone else. If I have been able to sustain this character for a long time, and if the public find, as they will find, that the last story is as good as the first, it is entirely due to the fact that I never, or hardly ever, forced a story. Some have thought there was a falling off in the stories, and the criticism was neatly expressed by a Cornish boatman who said to me, “I think, sir, when Holmes fell over that cliff, he may not have killed himself, but all the same he was never quite the same man afterwards.”
I was weary, however, of inventing plots and I set myself now to do some work which would certainly be less renumerative but would be more ambitious from a literary point of view. I had long been attracted by the epoch of Louis XIV and by those Huguenots who were the French equivalents of our Puritans. I had a good knowledge of the memoirs of that date, and many notes already prepared, so that it did not take me long to write The Refugees.
Yet it was still the Sherlock Holmes stories for which the public clamoured, and these from time to time I endeavoured to supply. At last, after I had done two series of them, I saw that I was in danger of having my hand forced, and of being entirely identified with what I regarded as a lower stratum of literary achievement. Therefore, as a sign of my resolution, I determined to end the life of my hero. The idea was in my mind when I went with my wife for a short holiday in Switzerland, in the course of which we walked down the Lauterbrunnen Valley. I saw there the wonderful falls of Reichenbach, a terrible place, and that, I thought, would make a worthy tomb for poor Sherlock, even if I buried my banking account along with him. So there I laid him, fully determined that he should stay there—as indeed for some twenty years he did.
I was amazed at the concern expressed by the public. They say that a man is never properly appreciated until he is dead, and the general protest against my summary execution of Holmes taught me how many and how numerous were his friends. “You brute” was the beginning of the letter of remonstrance which one lady sent me, and I expect she spoke for others beside herself. I heard of many who wept. I fear I was utterly callous myself.
James Barrie is one of my oldest literary friends, and I knew him within a year or two of the time when we both came to London. He and I had one most unfortunate venture together. The facts were that he had promised Mr D‘Oyly Carte that he would provide the libretto of a light opera for the Savoy. I was brought into the matter because Barrie’s health failed on account of some family bereavement. I had an urgent telegram from him. I found him worried because he had bound himself by contract, and he felt in his present state unable to go forward with it. There were to be two acts, and he had written the first one, and had the rough scenario of the second. Would I come in with him and help him to complete it as part author? I did my best and wrote the lyrics for the second act, and much of the dialogue, but it had to take the predestined shape. The result was not good, and on the first night I felt inclined, like Charles Lamb, to hiss it from my box. The opera, Jane Annie, was one of the few failures in Barrie’s brilliant career. We were well abused by the critics, but Barrie took it all in the bravest spirit, and I still retain the comic verses of consolation which I received from him next morning.
There followed a parody on Holmes, written on the flyleaves of one one of his books. It ran thus:
The Adventure of the Two Collaborators
In bringing to a close the adventures of my friend Sherlock Holmes I am perforce reminded that he never, save on the occasion which, as you will now hear, brought his singular career to an end, consented to act in any mystery which was concerned with persons who made a livelihood by their pen. “I am not particular about the people I mix among for business purposes,” he would say, “but at literary characters I draw the line.”
We were in our rooms in Baker Street one evening. I was (I remember) by the centre table writing out “The Adventure of the Man Without a Cork Leg” (which had so puzzled the Royal Society and all the other scientific bodies of Europe), and Holmes was amusing himself with a little revolver practice.
It was his custom of a summer evening to fire round my head, just shaving my face, until he had made a photograph of me on the opposite wall, and it is a slight proof of his skill that many of these portraits in pistol shots are considered admirable likenesses.
I happened to look out of the window, and, perceiving two gentlemen advancing rapidly along Baker Street, asked him who they were. He immediately lit his pipe, and, twisting himself on a chair into a figure 8, replied:
“They are two collaborators in comic opera, and their play has not been a triumph.”
I sprang from my chair to the ceiling in amazement, and he then explained:
“My dear Watson, they are obviously men who follow some low calling. That much even you should be able to read in their faces. Those little pieces of blue paper which they fling angrily from them are Durrant’s Press Notices. Of these they have obviously hundreds about their person (see how their pockets bulge). They would not dance on them if they were pleasant reading.”
I again sprang to the ceiling (which is much dented) and shouted: “Amazing! But they may be mere authors.”
“No,” said Holmes, “for mere authors only get one press notice a week. Only criminals, dramatists, and actors get them by the hundred.”
“Then they may be actors.”
“No, actors would come in a carriage.”
“Can you tell me anything else about them?”
“A great deal. From the mud on the boots of the tall one I perceive that he comes from South Norwood. The other is obviously a Scotch author.”
“How can you tell that?”
“He is carrying in his pocket a book called (I clearly see) ‘Auld Licht Something.’ Would anyone but the author be likely to carry about a book with such a title?”
I had to confess that this was improbable.
It was now evident that the two men (if such they can be called) were seeking our lodgings. I have said (often) that Holmes seldom gave way to emotion of any kind, but he now turned livid with passion. Presently this gave place to a strange look of triumph.
“Watson,” he said, “that big fellow has for years taken the credit for my most remarkable doings, but at last I have him—at last!”
Up I went to the ceiling, and when I returned the strangers were in the room.
“I perceive, gentlemen,” said Mr. Sherlock Holmes, “that you are at present afflicted by an extraordinary novelty.”
The handsomer of our visitors asked in amazement how he knew this, but the big one only scowled.
“You forget that you wear a ring on your fourth finger,” replied Mr. Holmes calmly.
I was about to jump to the ceiling when the big brute interposed.
“That tommyrot is all very well for the public, Holmes,” said he, “but you can drop it before me. And, Watson, if you go up to the ceiling again I shall make you stay there.”
Here I observed a curious phenomenon. My friend Sherlock Holmes shrank. He became small before my eyes. I looked longingly at the ceiling, but dared not.
“Let us cut out the first four pages,” said the big man, “and proceed to business. I want to know why—”
“Allow me,” said Mr. Holmes, with some of his old courage. “You want to know why the public does not go to your opera.”
“Exactly,” said the other ironically, “as you perceive by my shirt stud.” He added more gravely: “And as you can only find out in one way I must insist on your witnessing an entire performance of the piece.”
It was an anxious moment for me. I shuddered, for I knew that if Holmes went I should have to go with him. But my friend had a heart of gold. “Never!” he cried fiercely. “I will do anything for you save that.”
“Your continued existence depends on it,” said the big man menacingly.
“I would rather melt into air,” replied Holmes proudly, taking another chair. “But I can tell you why the public don’t go to your piece without sitting the thing out myself.”
“Because,” replied Holmes calmly, “they prefer to stay away.”
A dead silence followed that extraordinary remark. For a moment the two intruders gazed with awe upon the man who had unravelled their mystery so wonderfully. Then, drawing their knives—
Holmes grew less and less, until nothing was left save a ring of smoke which slowly circled to the ceiling.
The last words of great men are often noteworthy. These were the last words of Sherlock Holmes: “Fool, fool! I have kept you in luxury for years. By my help you have ridden extensively in cabs where no author was ever seen before. Henceforth you will ride in buses!”
The brute sank into a chair aghast. The other author did not turn a hair.
To A. Conan Doyle, From his friend, J. M. BARRIE.
This parody, the best of all the numerous parodies, may be taken as an example, not only of the author’s wit, but of his debonair courage, for it was written immediately after our joint failure, which at the moment was a bitter thought for both of us. There is, indeed, nothing more miserable than a theatrical failure, for you feel how many others who have backed you have been affected. It was, I am glad to say, my only experience of it, and I have no doubt that Barrie could say the same.
Before I leave the subject of the many impersonations of Holmes, I may say that all of them, and all the drawings, are very unlike my own original idea of the man. I saw him as very tall—“over six feet, but so excessively lean that he seemed considerably taller,” said A Study in Scarlet. He had, as I imagined him, a thin razorlike face, with a great hawk‘s-bill of a nose, and two small eyes, set close together on either side of it. Such was my conception. It chanced, however, that poor Arthur Paget, who, before his premature death, drew all the original pictures, had a younger brother whose name, I think, was Harold, who served him as a model. The handsome Harold took the place of the more powerful but uglier Sherlock, and, perhaps from the point of view of my lady readers, it was as well. The stage has followed the type set up by the pictures.
People have often asked me whether I knew the end of a Holmes story before I started it. Of course I did. One could not possibly steer a course if one did not know one’s destination. The first thing is to get your idea. We will suppose that this idea is that a woman, as in the last story, is sus-p ected of biting a wound in her child, when she was really sucking that wound for fear of poison injected by some one else. Having got that key idea, one’s next task is to conceal it and lay emphasis upon everything which can make for a different explanation. Holmes, however, can see all the fallacies of the alternatives, and arrives more or less dramatically at the true solution by steps which he can describe and justify.
He shows his powers by what the South Americans now call “Sher locholmitos,” which means clever little deductions, which often have nothing to do with the matter in hand, but impress the reader with a general sense of power. The same effect is gained by his offhand allusion to other cases. Heaven knows how many titles I have thrown about in a casual way, and how many readers have begged me to satisfy their curiosity as to “Rigoletto and His Abominable Wife,” “The Adventure of the Tired Captain,” or “The Curious Experience of the Patterson Family in the Island of Uffa.” Once or twice, as in “The Adventure of the Second Stain,” which in my judgment is one of the neatest of the stories, I did actually use the title years before I wrote a story to correspond.
There are some questions concerned with particular stories which turn up periodically from every quarter of the globe. In “The Adventure of the Priory School,” Holmes remarks in his offhand way that by looking at a bicycle track on a damp moor one can say which way it is heading. I had so many remonstrances upon this point, varying from pity to anger, that I took out my bicycle and tried. I had imagined that the observations of the way in which the track of the hind wheel overlaid the track of the front one when the machine was not running dead straight would show the direction. I found that my correspondents were right and I was wrong, for this would be the same whichever way the cycle was moving. On the other hand, the real solution was much simpler, for on an undulating moor the wheels make a deeper impression uphill and a more shallow one downhill, so Holmes was justified of his wisdom after all.
Sometimes I have got upon dangerous ground, where I have taken risks through my own want of knowledge of the correct atmosphere. I have, for example, never been a racing man, and yet I ventured to write “Silver Blaze,” where the mystery depends upon the laws of training and racing. The story is all right, and Holmes may have been at the top of his form, but my ignorance cries aloud to Heaven. I read an excellent and very damaging criticism of the story in some sporting paper, written clearly by a man who did know, in which he explained the exact penalties which would have come upon all concerned if they had acted as I described. Half would have been in jail and the other half warned off the turf forever. However, I have never been nervous about details, and one must be masterful sometimes. When an alarmed editor wrote to me once: “There is no second line of rails at this point,” I answered: “I make one.” On the other hand, there are cases where accuracy is essential.
I do not wish to be ungrateful to Holmes, who has been a good friend to me in many ways. If I have sometimes been inclined to weary of him, it is because his character admits of no light or shade. He is a calculating machine, and anything you add to that simply weakens the effect. Thus the variety of the stories must depend upon the romance and compact handling of the plots. I would say a word for Watson also, who in the course of seven volumes never knows one gleam of humour or makes a single joke. To make a real character one must sacrifice everything to consistency and remember Goldsmith’s criticism of Johnson that “he would make the little fishes talk like whales.”
The Critic and the Snake
The impression that Holmes was a real person of flesh and blood may have been intensified by his frequent appearance upon the stage. After the withdrawal of my dramatization of “Rodney Stone” from a theatre upon which I held a six months’ lease I determined to play a bold and energetic game and certainly I never played a bolder. When I saw the course that things were taking I shut myself up and devoted my whole mind to making a sensational Sherlock Holmes drama. I wrote it in a week and called it “The Speckled Band,” after the short story of that name. I do not think that I exaggerate if I say that within a fortnight of the one play shutting down I had a company working upon the rehearsals of the other. It was a considerable success.
We had a fine boa to play the title role, a snake which was the pride of my heart, so one can imagine my disgust when I saw that the critic of the Daily Telegraph ended his disparaging review by the words: “The crisis of the play was produced by the appearance of a palpably artificial serpent.” I was inclined to offer him a goodly sum if he would undertake to go to bed with it. We had several snakes at different times, but they were all inclined either to hang down from the hole in the wall like inanimate bell pulls, or else to turn back through the hole and get even with the stage carpenter, who pinched their tails in order to make them more lively. Finally we used artificial snakes, and everyone, including the stage carpenter, agreed that it was more satisfactory.
I have had many letters addressed to Holmes with requests that I forward them. Watson has also had a number of letters in which he has been asked for the address or for the autograph of his more brilliant confrère. A press-cutting agency wrote to Watson asking whether Holmes would not wish to subscribe. When Holmes retired, several elderly ladies were ready to keep house for him, and one sought to ingratiate herself by assuring me that she knew all about bee-keeping and could “segregate the queen.” I had considerable offers also for Holmes if he would examine and solve various family mysteries.
I have often been asked whether I had myself the qualities which I depicted, or whether I was merely the Watson that I look. Of course I am well aware that it is one thing to grapple with a practical problem and quite another thing when you are allowed to solve it under your own conditions. At the same time a man cannot spin a character out of his own inner consciousness and make it really lifelike unless he has some possibilities of that character within him—which is a dangerous admission for one who has drawn so many villains as I.
I do not think that I ever realized what a living actual personality Holmes had become to the more guileless readers until I heard of the very pleasing story of the char-à-bancsof French schoolboys who, when asked what they wanted to see first in London, replied unanimously that they wanted to see Mr Holmes’s lodgings in Baker Street. Many have asked me which house it is, but that is a point which, for excellent reasons, I will not decide.
In the year 1878 I took my degree of Doctor of Medicine of the University of London, and proceeded to Netley to go through the course prescribed for surgeons in the Army. Having completed my studies there, I was duly attached to the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers as assistant surgeon. The regiment was stationed in India at the time, and before I could join it, the second Afghan war had broken out. On landing at Bombay, I learned that my corps had advanced through the passes, and was already deep in the enemy's country. I followed, however, with many other officers who were in the same situation as myself, and succeeded in reaching Candahar in safety, where I found my regiment, and at once entered upon my new duties.
The campaign brought honours and promotion to many, but for me it had nothing but misfortune and disaster. I was removed from my brigade and attached to the Berkshires, with whom I served at the fatal battle of Maiwand. There I was struck on the shoulder by a Jezail bullet, which shattered the bone and grazed the subclavian artery. I should have fallen into the hands of the murderous Ghazis had it not been for the devotion and courage shown by Murray, my orderly, who threw me across a pack-horse, and succeeded in bringing me safely to the British lines.
Worn with pain, and weak from the prolonged hardships which I had undergone, I was removed, with a great train of wounded sufferers, to the base hospital at Peshawur. Here I rallied, and had already improved so far as to be able to walk about the wards, and even to bask a little upon the veranda, when I was struck down by enteric fever, that curse of our Indian possessions. For months my life was despaired of, and when at last I came to myself and became convalescent, I was so weak and emaciated that a medical board determined that not a day should be lost in sending me back to England. I was despatched, accordingly, in the troopship Orontes, and landed a month later on Portsmouth jetty, with my health irretrievably ruined, but with permission from a paternal government to spend the next nine months in attempting to improve it.
I had neither kith nor kin in England, and was therefore as free as air – or as free as an income of eleven shillings and sixpence a day will permit a man to be. Under such circumstances I naturally gravitated to London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained. There I stayed for some time at a private hotel in the Strand, leading a comfortless, meaningless existence, and spending such money as I had, considerably more freely than I ought. So alarming did the state of my finances become, that I soon realized that I must either leave the metropolis and rusticate somewhere in the country, or that I must make a complete alteration in my style of living. Choosing the latter alternative, I began by making up my mind to leave the hotel, and take up my quarters in some less pretentious and less expensive domicile.
On the very day that I had come to this conclusion, I was standing at the Criterion Bar, when someone tapped me on the shoulder, and turning round I recognized young Stamford, who had been a dresser under me at Bart's. The sight of a friendly face in the great wilderness of London is a pleasant thing indeed to a lonely man. In old days Stamford had never been a particular crony of mine, but now I hailed him with enthusiasm, and he, in his turn, appeared to be delighted to see me. In the exuberance of my joy, I asked him to lunch with me at the Holborn, and we started off together in a hansom.
»Whatever have you been doing with yourself, Watson?« he asked in undisguised wonder, as we rattled through the crowded London streets. »You are as thin as a lath and as brown as a nut.«
I gave him a short sketch of my adventures, and had hardly concluded it by the time that we reached our destination.
»Poor devil!« he said, commiseratingly, after he had listened to my misfortunes. »What are you up to now?«
»Looking for lodgings,« I answered. »Trying to solve the problem as to whether it is possible to get comfortable rooms at a reasonable price.«
»That's a strange thing,« remarked my companion; »you are the second man to-day that has used that expression to me.«
»And who was the first?« I asked.
»A fellow who is working at the chemical laboratory up at the hospital. He was bemoaning himself this morning because he could not get someone to go halves with him in some nice rooms which he had found, and which were too much for his purse.«
»By Jove!« I cried; »if he really wants someone to share the rooms and the expense, I am the very man for him. I should prefer having a partner to being alone.«
Young Stamford looked rather strangely at me over his wineglass. »You don't know Sherlock Holmes yet,« he said; »perhaps you would not care for him as a constant companion.«
»Why, what is there against him?«
»Oh, I didn't say there was anything against him. He is a little queer In his ideas – an enthusiast in some branches of science. As far as I know he is a decent fellow enough.«
»A medical student, I suppose?« said I.
»No – I have no idea what he intends to go in for. I believe he is well up in anatomy, and he is a first-class chemist; but, as far as I know, he has never taken out any systematic medical classes. His studies are very desultory and eccentric, but he has amassed a lot of out-of-the-way knowledge which would astonish his professors.«
»Did you never ask him what he was going in for?« I asked.
»No; he is not a man that it is easy to draw out, though he can be communicative enough when the fancy seizes him.«
»I should like to meet him,« I said. »If I am to lodge with anyone, I should prefer a man of studious and quiet habits. I am not strong enough yet to stand much noise or excitement. I had enough of both in Afghanistan to last me for the remainder of my natural existence. How could I meet this friend of yours?«
»He is sure to be at the laboratory,« returned my companion. »He either avoids the place for weeks, or else he works there from morning till night. If you like, we will drive round together after luncheon.«
»Certainly,« I answered, and the conversation drifted away into other channels.
As we made our way to the hospital after leaving the Holborn, Stamford gave me a few more particulars about the gentleman whom I proposed to take as a fellow-lodger.
»You mustn't blame me if you don't get on with him,« he said; »I know nothing more of him than I have learned from meeting him occasionally in the laboratory. You proposed this arrangement, so you must not hold me responsible.«
»If we don't get on it will be easy to part company,« I answered. »It seems to me, Stamford,« I added, looking hard at my companion, »that you have some reason for washing your hands of the matter. Is this fellow's temper so formidable, or what is it? Don't be mealy mouthed about it.«
»It is not easy to express the inexpressible,« he answered with a laugh. »Holmes is a little too scientific for my tastes – it approaches to cold-bloodedness. I could imagine his giving a friend a little pinch of the latest vegetable alkaloid, not out of malevolence, you understand, but simply out of a spirit of inquiry in order to have an accurate idea of the effects. To do him justice, I think that he would take it himself with the same readiness. He appears to have a passion for definite and exact knowledge.«
»Very right too.«
»Yes, but it may be pushed to excess. When it comes to beating the subjects in the dissecting-rooms with a stick, it is certainly taking rather a bizarre shape.«
»Beating the subjects!«
»Yes, to verify how far bruises may be produced after death. I saw him at it with my own eyes.«
»And yet you say he is not a medical student?«
»No. Heaven knows what the objects of his studies are. But here we are, and you must form your own impressions about him.« As he spoke, we turned down a narrow lane and passed through a small side-door, which opened into a wing of the great hospital. It was familiar ground to me, and I needed no guiding as we ascended the bleak stone staircase and made our way down the long corridor with its vista of whitewashed wall and dun-coloured doors. Near the farther end a low arched passage branched away from it and led to the chemical laboratory.
This was a lofty chamber, lined and littered with countless bottles. Broad, low tables were scattered about, which bristled with retorts, test-tubes, and little Bunsen lamps, with their blue flickering flames There was only one student in the room, who was bending over a distant table absorbed in his work. At the sound of our steps he glanced round and sprang to his feet with a cry of pleasure. »I've found it! I've found it,« he shouted to my companion, running towards us with a test-tube in his hand. »I have found a re-agent which is precipitated by hæmoglobin, and by nothing else.« Had he discovered a gold mine, greater delight could not have shone upon his features.
»Dr. Watson, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,« said Stamford, introducing us.
»How are you?« he said cordially, gripping my hand with a strength for which I should hardly have given him credit. »You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.«
»How on earth did you know that?« I asked in astonishment.
»Never mind,« said he, chuckling to himself. »The question now is about hæmoglobin. No doubt you see the significance of this discovery of mine?«
»It is interesting, chemically, no doubt,« I answered, »but practically ––«
»Why, man, it is the most practical medico-legal discovery for years. Don't you see that it gives us an infallible test for blood stains? Come over here now!« He seized me by the coat-sleeve in his eagerness, and drew me over to the table at which he had been working. »Let us have some fresh blood,« he said, digging a long bodkin into his finger, and drawing off the resulting drop of blood in a chemical pipette. »Now, I add this small quantity of blood to a litre of water. You perceive that the resulting mixture has the appearance of pure water. The proportion of blood cannot be more than one in a million. I have no doubt, however, that we shall be able to obtain the characteristic reaction.« As he spoke, he threw into the vessel a few white crystals, and then added some drops of a transparent fluid. In an instant the contents assumed a dull mahogany colour, and a brownish dust was precipitated to the bottom of the glass jar.
»Ha! ha!« he cried, clapping his hands, and looking as delighted as a child with a new toy. »What do you think of that?«
»It seems to be a very delicate test,« I remarked.
»Beautiful! beautiful! The old guaiacum test was very clumsy and uncertain. So is the microscopic examination for blood corpuscles. The latter is valueless if the stains are a few hours old. Now, this appears to act as well whether the blood is old or new. Had this' test been invented, there are hundreds of men now walking the earth who would long ago have paid the penalty of their crimes.«
»Indeed!« I murmured.
»Criminal cases are continually hinging upon that one point. A man is suspected of a crime months perhaps after it has been committed. His linen or clothes are examined and brownish stains discovered upon them. Are they blood stains, or mud stains, or rust stains, or fruit stains, or what are they? That is a question which has puzzled many an expert, and why? Because there was no reliable test. Now we have the Sherlock Holmes's test, and there will no longer be any difficulty.«
His eyes fairly glittered as he spoke, and he put his hand over his heart and bowed as if to some applauding crowd conjured up by his imagination.
»You are to be congratulated,« I remarked, considerably surprised at his enthusiasm.
»There was the case of Von Bischoff at Frankfort last year. He would certainly have been hung had this test been in existence. Then there was Mason of Bradford, and the notorious Muller, and Lefevre of Montpellier, and Samson of New Orleans. I could name a score of cases in which it would have been decisive.«
»You seem to be a walking calendar of crime,« said Stamford with a laugh. »You might start a paper on those lines. Call it the ›Police News of the Past.‹«
»Very interesting reading it might be made, too,« remarked Sherlock Holmes, sticking a small piece of plaster over the prick on his finger. »I have to be careful,« he continued, turning to me with a smile, »for I dabble with poisons a good deal.« He held out his hand as he spoke, and I noticed that it was all mottled over with similar pieces of plaster, and discoloured with strong acids.
»We came here on business,« said Stamford, sitting down on a high three-legged stool, and pushing another one in my direction with his foot. »My friend here wants to take diggings; and as you were complaining that you could get no one to go halves with you, I thought that I had better bring you together.«
Sherlock Holmes seemed delighted at the idea of sharing his rooms with me. »I have my eye on a suite in Baker Street,« he said, »which would suit us down to the ground. You don't mind the smell of strong tobacco, I hope?«
»I always smoke ›ship's‹ myself,« I answered.
»That's good enough. I generally have chemicals about, and occasionally do experiments. Would that annoy you?«
»By no means.«
»Let me see – what are my other shortcomings? I get in the dumps at times, and don't open my mouth for days on end. You must not think I am sulky when I do that. Just let me alone, and I'll soon be right. What have you to confess now? It's just as well for two fellows to know the worst of one another before they begin to live together.«
I laughed at this cross-examination. »I keep a bull pup,« I said, »and I object to rows because my nerves are shaken, and I get up at all sorts of ungodly hours, and I am extremely lazy. I have another set of vices when I'm well, but those are the principal ones at present.«
»Do you include violin playing in your category of rows?« he asked, anxiously.
»It depends on the player,« I answered. »A well-played violin is a treat for the gods – a badly played one ––«
»Oh, that's all right,« he cried, with a merry laugh. »I think we may consider the thing as settled-that is, if the rooms are agreeable to you.«
»When shall we see them?«
»Call for me here at noon to-morrow, and we'll go together and settle everything,« he answered.
»All right – noon exactly,« said I, shaking his hand.
We left him working among his chemicals, and we walked together towards my hotel.
»By the way,« I asked suddenly, stopping and turning upon Stamford, »how the deuce did he know that I had come from Afghanistan?«
My companion smiled an enigmatical smile. »That's just his little peculiarity,« he said. »A good many people have wanted to know how he finds things out.«
»Oh! a mystery is it?« I cried, rubbing my hands. »This is very piquant. I am much obliged to you for bringing us together. ›The proper study of mankind is man, you know.«
»You must study him, then,« Stamford said, as he bade me goodbye. »You'll find him a knotty problem, though. I'll wager he learns more about you than you about him. Good-bye.«
»Good-bye,« I answered, and strolled on to my hotel, considerably interested in my new acquaintance.
We met next day as he had arranged, and inspected the rooms at No. 221 B, Baker Street, of which he had spoken at our meeting. They consisted of a couple of comfortable bedrooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two broad windows. So desirable in every way were the apartments, and so moderate did the terms seem when divided between us, that the bargain was concluded upon the spot, and we at once entered into possession. That very evening I moved my things round from the hotel, and on the following morning Sherlock Holmes followed me with several boxes and portmanteaus. For a day or two we were busily employed in unpacking and laying out our property to the best advantage. That done, we gradually began to settle down and to accommodate ourselves to our new surroundings.
Holmes was certainly not a difficult man to live with. He was quiet in his ways, and his habits were regular. It was rare for him to be up after ten at night, and he had invariably breakfasted and gone out before I rose in the morning. Sometimes he spent his day at the chemical laboratory, sometimes in the dissecting rooms, and occasionally in long walks, which appeared to take him into the lowest portions of the city. Nothing could exceed his energy when the working fit was upon him; but now and again a reaction would seize him, and for days on end he would lie upon the sofa in the sitting-room, hardly uttering a word or moving a muscle from morning to night. On these occasions I have noticed such a dreamy, vacant expression in his eyes, that I might have suspected him of being addicted to the use of some narcotic, had not the temperance and cleanliness of his whole life forbidden such a notion.
As the weeks went by, my interest in him and my curiosity as to his aims in life gradually deepened and increased. His very person and appearance were such as to strike the attention of the most casual observer. In height he was rather over six feet, and so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller. His eyes were sharp and piercing, save during those intervals of torpor to which I have alluded; and his thin, hawk-like nose gave his whole expression an air of alertness and decision. His chin, too, had the prominence and squareness which mark the man of determination. His hands were invariably blotted with ink and stained with chemicals, yet he was possessed of extraordinary delicacy of touch, as I frequently had occasion to observe when I watched him manipulating his fragile philosophical instruments.
The reader may set me down as a hopeless busybody, when I confess how much this man stimulated my curiosity, and how often I endeavoured to break through the reticence which he showed on all that concerned himself. Before pronouncing judgment, however, be it remembered how objectless was my life, and how little there was to engage my attention. My health forbade me from venturing out unless the weather was exceptionally genial, and I had no friends who would call upon me and break the monotony of my daily existence. Under these circumstances, I eagerly hailed the little mystery which hung around my companion, and spent much of my time in endeavouring to unravel it.
He was not studying medicine. He had himself, in reply to a question, confirmed Stamford's opinion upon that point. Neither did he appear to have pursued any course of reading which might fit him for a degree in science or any other recognized portal which would give him an entrance into the learned world. Yet his zeal for certain studies was remarkable, and within eccentric limits his knowledge was so extraordinarily ample and minute that his observations have fairly astounded me. Surely no man would work so hard or attain such precise information unless he had some definite end in view. Desultory readers are seldom remarkable for the exactness of their learning. No man burdens his mind with small matters unless he has some very good reason for doing so.
His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naïvest way who he might be and what he had done. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to me to be such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.
»You appear to be astonished,« he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. »Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it.«
»To forget it!«
»You see,« he explained, »I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.«
»But the Solar System!« I protested.
»What the deuce is it to me?« he interrupted impatiently: »you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.«
I was on the point of asking him what that work might be, but something in his manner showed me that the question would be an unwelcome one. I pondered over our short conversation, however, and endeavoured to draw my deductions from it. He said that he would acquire no knowledge which did not bear upon his object. Therefore all the knowledge which he possessed was such as would be useful to him. I enumerated in my own mind all the various points upon which he had shown me that he was exceptionally well informed. I even took a pencil and jotted them down. I could not help smiling at the document when I had completed it. It ran in this way:
SHERLOCK HOLMES – his limits
1. Knowledge of Literature. – Nil.
2. Knowledge of Philosophy. – Nil.
3. Knowledge of Astronomy. – Nil.
4. Knowledge of Politics. – Feeble.